Election Coverage

Robinson: School board a family tradition

Candidate Jennifer Robinson says she’s running for school board not just to stay involved in her kids’ education – but also to stay out of their way.

Robinson has filed as an official write-in candidate for this October’s municipal election. She’s one of two candidates running for two open seats on the Sitka school board.

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You might say Robinson is a victim of her own enthusiasm. She’s the director of Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce, which holds a public forum during its weekly luncheon meetings.

“So we had a speaker at the chamber lunch from the school board – Tim Fulton. And listening to him talk about all the things that they’re doing… I got really excited about it again.”

Robinson has returned to Alaska within the past couple of years from California, where she was involved in her two children’s schools. Her kids – a son in eighth grade and a daughter in eleventh grade – are a little beyond where parent help in the classroom is really practical, not to mention totally uncool.

“I’ve always been involved in their education, and as they’ve gotten older they don’t have much appreciation for me being in the school necessarily. I guess I’ve focused more on the community recently, and this seems like a good direction for me to go. A way for me to be actively involved in their education without getting in the way of their social life.”

Robinson understands that maintaining some distance is important. She grew up in Port Alexander, where her mother – current Sitka assembly member and mayoral candidate Mim McConnell – was also on the school board. Robinson graduated from the Port Alexander school with one other senior, out of a total student body around twenty.

Robinson says having a mother on the school board actually came with some big perks.

“I remember it being kind of cool, actually, because she would leave town on these meetings. And then when she came home, she would have been shopping at an actual grocery store instead of mail order. So she would come back with all kinds of fund treats – it was kind of exciting.”

Robinson believes the current school board has done a good job. As the director of the Chamber of Commerce, she’s pro-business, but sees major overlap between business and education.

“It is through education that we create a skilled and diverse work force, and I think it’s important to remember that – hopefully – these are Sitka’s future leaders that we’re educating. And if we can keep that in mind, what do we want Sitka to look like, by giving them an education that they can use here, to strengthen our economy, and hopefully we’ll keep them here.”

Robinson is unapologetically pro-technology. She knows the district’s recent decision to invest stimulus funding in networking and classroom technology was controversial. She believes there should be balance, however.

She also thinks class sizes should be small, particularly in the lower levels, and that the district should continue to work on early education.

“I think it’s helpful when you have a class full of kindergarteners, or first-graders, or second-graders – wherever they’re at at that real young age – that they’re all close together as far as where they’re at in their learning. If you have some students come in that are already reading or know their numbers, versus other students that are just starting to touch on those things, it’s got to be challenging for a teacher to work with that wide a group of students. In that respect, I think early childhood education would be a huge benefit.”

Robinson wants the district to remain focused on attainable skills. She knows core math remains controversial – her own daughter struggled with it last year as a freshman after moving into the district from California. Robinson will be interested to see how her son handles it as an eighth grader. She – like many parents, faculty, and board members – will be interested to see how the district addresses last year’s extensive math audit.

If Robinson gets a seat on the school board, and her mother, Mim McConnell, is successful in the mayor’s race, Sitka will have two members of the same family in local government. It’s not an unprecedented situation in Sitka, and in Robinson’s life, it doesn’t seem like a very big deal. She says her mom’s always been engaged.

“I’ve just grown up that’s normal. That’s what parents do.”

Jennifer Robinson is an official write-in candidate for school board. The municipal election in Sitka is Tuesday, October 2.

Ed Ronco contributed to this story.

Jennifer Robinson and fellow school-board candidate Cass Pook will take listener calls during a school board forum on Raven Radio this Wednesday, September 19, beginning at 6:35 PM.

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